Group hands out free meth pipes in Seattle

May 14, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
An Australian Federal Police officer stands guard over some of the seized drugs in one of the largest drug busts in the country's history, worth up to 1.28 billion USD, in Sydney on November 29, 2014.

The People's Harm Reduction Alliance is a privately funded needle-swap group run by drug users, and it has distributed more than 1,000 pipes in Seattle aiming to curb the spread of infectious diseases that perpetuate as a result of meth users resorting to needles instead of smoking pipes. Reuters reports:

Occasional crystal meth smoker Richard Russell ambles up to a church storage garage in a Seattle alley and a recovering drug addict hands him two brand new meth pipes, no questions asked.
One of about two dozen methamphetamine users who received free bubble-ended pipes on a recent afternoon, Russell is a participant in a pioneering but illegal program launched in March that aims to indirectly curb infectious diseases.
"Dude's got something to smoke but he doesn't have a pipe, what's he going to do?" Russell said later as he munched on a sandwich. "Panhandle, steal. Inject."
The theory behind the handout program is that giving meth pipes to drug users may steer some away from needles, which are far riskier than smoking, especially if the user is sharing with another person infected with HIV or hepatitis C.


There are no studies to show meth users will resort to injections if pipes are unavailable, or that handing out pipes prevents needle use, said Matthew Golden, a Seattle and King County Disease Control Officer and a University of Washington professor of medicine.
It is also hard to quantify how much the campaign might prevent death or infection, if at all, even if it does give meth users safer options than a needle or smoking out of a jerry-rigged light bulb, Golden said.
'It is plausible the intervention could be effective,' Golden said. 'It's simply an unstudied idea.' 
But the Alliance, which says it is the nation's largest needle-exchange program by syringes dispersed, has pushed legal boundaries for years with user-conceived experiments unacceptable to its taxpayer-funded counterparts, Murphy said.